ELZA: Filing a protest against Senate Bill 171 | Columns

Senate Bill 171 or the “Safe Communities Act” is an attempt to make it harder for protesters to protest primarily by making them liable for any damage to property during protests. It’s designed to cool the spoken word, but wording is important here.

Section 2(i) of the bill elevates the charge of simple bodily injury during a demonstration to a misdemeanor “of a serious and aggravated nature”. Section 3(b) states that a person who knowingly participates in any of the prohibited acts is guilty of a misdemeanour.

Section 3(b) Meeting of two or more persons for the purpose of committing an unlawful act and failure to withdraw from the meeting after being lawfully ordered to do so by a police officer and before a member assembly has inflicted injury to the person or property of others may be charged with a serious and aggravated offence. “For the purpose of committing an unlawful act”, “lawfully ordered” and by a police officer are expressions that have long been interpreted by courts in free speech cases and generally in favor of the speaker.

Section 3(3c) A person who knowingly participates in an assembly of seven or more persons and commits violence against the person or property of others in that assembly shall be guilty of a felony and, on conviction, shall be punished with a term of imprisonment of not less than one year or more than five years or a fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 or both.

“And commits violence” is the key phrase. There are a number of laws on the books that impose penalties on people who commit violence at protests. The charge must be made against the person who actually caused the damage, threw the rock, looted the store, etc. The mere fact of participating in a demonstration that has degenerated should not subject the participant to this accusation. We can debate whether increasing the punishment for actions really deters action.

The same penalty is imposed when a person “intentionally or recklessly” obstructs a highway or street to the point of making it impassable and fails or refuses to remove the obstruction after receiving a “reasonable official request or order to a police officer “. It will be interesting to see how this will apply if these antivaxxer truckers were to circle the Atlanta Capitol.

The bill’s licensing provisions require applications to be reviewed by an attorney representing the governing authority and by all heads of county or municipal law enforcement agencies. 36 OCG 60-29 would require all organizations to submit the names and contact details of all persons responsible for the management and maintenance of order during the event, as well as an emergency action plan that addresses all first aid and safety resources provided by the applicant.

These requirements are overstated and unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

What is really new in this bill is the waiver of sovereign immunity in cases of violence and destruction of property. 36 OCG 60-30 would make government authorities civilly liable for damages caused by the failure to provide reasonable law enforcement protection during such a riot or unlawful assembly. Government authorities are prohibited from intentionally obstructing or interfering with the ability of a law enforcement agency (which provides) reasonable law enforcement protection during a riot or an illegal assembly.

It goes so far as to implement voluntary insurance deductions for police officers who may be prosecuted for their role as public safety employees. This is going to make budget meetings livelier across the state.

The governing authority is liable for any damages, including but not limited to damages resulting from personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage caused by the agency’s failure to provide reasonable protection law enforcement during such a riot or gathering. Even pain and suffering? If you are one of those people who think government should cost less, you should really oppose this bill.

Dr. Jane Elza, Ph.D., retired, is a resident of Valdosta.

Norman D. Briggs